Published: March 25, 2013 Updated 6 hours ago
By Jane Stancill — firstname.lastname@example.org
CHAPEL HILL — Landen Gambill, the UNC-Chapel Hill student who faces an honor court trial following her public allegations of being raped by a fellow student, has filed a federal complaint accusing the university of retaliation.
Gambill’s attorney, Henry Clay Turner, wrote a letter to UNC-CH Chancellor Holden Thorp, saying the complaint had been filed Monday with the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights. That’s the same agency already investigating the university for its handling of sexual assault cases following a January complaint by Gambill and several other women. In a related matter, the university is being reviewed by federal officials for possible violations of the Clery Act, a federal law that requires campuses to disclose crime statistics.
Turner demanded that the university dismiss the case and said Gambill won’t participate in what he called the honor court’s “reckless prosecution.” Gambill was charged with an honor code violation for intimidating the man she says raped her, though she has not named him publicly.
“The retaliatory charges against my client are inappropriate, unconstitutional, and utterly without merit,” Turner wrote.
Gambill could face a range of sanctions from the honor court, up to and including expulsion.
The honor court has been run by students since 1875, and university officials have said they do not intervene to either bring or drop charges against students.
Turner disputed that, citing a clause in the code saying the chancellor has the ultimate responsibility for matters of student discipline, even though that is typically delegated to students and faculty.
Gambill has been outspoken during several rallies on campus, where she talked about her allegations of sexual assault having been mishandled by the university. Last year, the student she accused of rape was cleared in a judicial hearing before a panel of students, faculty and staff.
The attorney for the male student has said he has suffered from widespread media coverage of Gambill’s public remarks, and even though she has not named him, some people on campus know his identity. His educational experience has been jeopardized by the stressful situation, his attorney has said.
But in Monday’s letter to Thorp, Turner wrote that Gambill has a First Amendment right to speak about her experience as a survivor of sexual violence.
“Nor will she be deterred by the University’s recent troubling attempts to silence and discredit her by wrongly implying that Ms. Gambill’s allegations of sexual assault were untrue,” he wrote.
He cited a passage in a series of emails posted on the Orange Politics blog, between UNC-CH Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs Winston Crisp and Carrboro Mayor Mark Chilton. In the exchange, Crisp wrote, “I know of no circumstances where the good faith report of a rape would result in Honor Code Charges.” He was responding to Chilton, who had written a student attorney general, asking her to clarify whether reporting a rape would amount to a violation of the honor code.
“Mr. Crisp’s not-so-subtle, and profoundly inappropriate, implication was that Ms. Gambill’s allegations were false and made in bad faith,” Turner wrote.